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Interview: Donna Tocci
Professional business communicator Donna Tocci has recently joined the blogosphere and discusses with us her views, her findings and whether blogs and podcasts are for every company.
A self-confessed neophyte as far as the new online technology is concerned, Donna very kindly agreed to be interviewed via email. A series of emails back and forth later, we have a much richer picture of a skilled business communicator and what she is looking to get out of the new, more 'social' structure of the web (known by many as "Web2.0").
Donna: You asked how to describe or introduce myself....that's the toughest question. It is always hard to write about yourself, isn't it? EEEK! I've done a little bit of everything within the 'marketing/public relations' banner.
I began working in events way back in another life... then went to sports marketing, then diversity marketing, then to an agency that serviced high tech clients and then to Kryptonite. I wanted to get back to a little bit more of a sports background, which is where I started with events and sports marketing. Kryptonite satisfied that need within its bicycle channel, to some extent. Toss in some media relations for an independent film and some writing and you have my professional life in a nutshell.
Lee: How did you get started in the world of business communications?
Donna: Kryptonite is the first in-house communications job I've had. Before that I was at several agencies servicing multiple clients at one time. That was good training for being the PR person for a company with multiple channels!
Lee: You mentioned the 'K' word, which is of course how you came to fame and fortune <smile> in the blogosphere. I won't rehash that for readers who may not know the Kryptonite story, save to say that one of the products Kryponite manufactures had a flaw and although the company moved quickly and correctly to fix it, that wasn't fast enough for a small and vocal group in the blogosphere.
I know you have elaborated on what happened over on Shel Israel and Robert Scoble's book blog, Naked Conversations, so I'll link to that. But tell us more about your role within Kryptonite -- you say it has multiple channels, what are those channels and where do you fit into the picture?
Donna: Kryptonite is a very small company of just 25 people so we are all important pieces of the puzzle. My piece of the puzzle is that I work with the media and most external communications worldwide. I'm also the person that reviews sponsorship requests and facilitates our involvement in the events and with organizations that are the right fit for us. When I say 'multiple channels', the company designs and manufactures security products for bicycles, motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles, skiis, snowboards as well as for home and jobsite use. We put these all into two categories or channels: 'Action Sports' and 'Mobile Security'.
Lee: You have mentioned that you've started not only your own blog but also some online media for cyclists - could you tell us some of your learnings?
Donna: I did start my own blog back in November, which is completely my own and not work related at all. I guess I wanted to see what all the fuss is about and put in my two cents to a couple of things. I'm still not sure about it, but will give it a go for a little while and see what happens.
The other blog was started by Tim Jackson who had a similar vision to mine, but actually made it happen. We both thought it would be great to get some of the intelligent people in the bicycle industry together to collaborate and share ideas. I wasn't sure how that would happen logistically, but Tim did. He started the blog and invited a couple of people he knows and respects within the industry and I did the same. So far, it's six of us that post infrequently, but Tim is hoping that changes a little bit after the new year. It's had some great response so far.
What have I learned? Well, in the last year and a half I've learned a whole bunch! I've also learned that there is still so much to learn because the way the world communicates is changing almost on a daily basis. Whether you like the 'public relations' title or not, that role within an organization is changing rapidly. Remember back even 5 years ago when a faxed press release was the norm? Cold calling was a daily (painful) occurence? And companies could make a mistake and have some time to create a plan before the world knew about it? All of that has changed, as you know. When was the last time you faxed a press release to someone? I can't even tell you the last time I did. Cold calling? Always hated that, but now it's email communications - so much better for all involved (at least I think so).
And, when a company hits a bump in the road, some people know about it almost real time, as it is happening. The internet and all of the technology tools have changed all of this.
Now, having said that, I, personally, do not think the technology we have now is the be all end all. Not every company needs to jump on each of the bandwagons that is out there now. Not every company needs a blog. Not every company needs a podcast. That doesn't mean they are being anti-social or that they are trying to hide. It simply means that some companies feel they are reaching their core audience in other 'traditional' ways. And they are. I've thought that all along. I've even had that discussion, more than once, with smart people who believe otherwise. One of those people is Tara over at www.horsepigcow.com. She is such an intelligent, passionate woman and I have been fortunate enough to share some conversations with her. She is so up on all of the new technologies that she speaks a foreign language to me most times. But, she recently posted about a trip home to see her family for the holidays. What she found out is that they don't know most of what she is talking about, or if they do, they don't see it mattering to their daily life. They, too, are intelligent people, but they are influenced by things other than what is online.
Ah-HA! My point exactly. I think that as time goes on more and more people will join 'our world' and companies will need to shift their thinking, but not everyone needs to do it immediately, right now.
However, I firmly believe that every single company needs to be aware of what is being said about them and needs to research their 'space' to know what is going on in the marketplace.
Oh my goodness, was that a longer answer than you thought you'd get? Sometimes I just get on a roll....
Lee: No, that's fine, thank you! So do you now have a blog monitoring process set up for yourself? What tools do you use and what do you do with the information?
Donna: I spent a lot of the last year finding my way around the blogosphere. I pretty much know some of the key folks that have blogs in the areas I need to follw, but so many more are popping up all the time. I don't have time to read all of what I'd like to, but I do go to the folks I've designated as "A-listers" for us and read them all the time. For the rest, I just do some simple searches for our company and competitors. What do I do with the info? Track it. Watch it. Jump in and converse with folks when something strikes me as relevant enough for us to have a say about it.
Lee: What have been some of the key lessons you've learned from your business communications experiences so far?
Donna: Relationships are key. Sounds simple, but some so-called communicators just don't get that. You can not be a communications person without solid relationships. They take time to build, but they are the foundation of any successful communicator.
I think some people get stuck on the 'time to build' part. Who has time these days? They think that one email exchange means they have a relationship with that person. It doesn't. Only through time does a relationship get built. It's the same in life outside work, too. :)
Follow-up is also very important. If you've told someone that you will get back to them with an answer - do it. Even if the answer isn't something they want to hear like, "I'm sorry but I just can't tell you that". Let's face it, even with this era of 'tell all' there are still things a company can not tell the public because it is either competitive information or future strategy or even, in some cases, a legal issue. It's better to just be up front and say "sorry...can't do it" than leave someone hanging.
There is so much I have learned over the years, Lee. It is hard to put them all down here.
Lee: No, that's great, thanks. What projects are you currently working on that you can tell us about?
Donna: At work I'm currently working on my 2006 plan. I know, you'd think it would all be done by now, right? It usually isn't all finalized until mid-January. But, when I say 'finalized' it's still just an outline. Things change so fast that any communications plan needs to be completely fluid.
We also have a big tradeshow in February that I'll be attending so we're getting ready for that, too.
Personally, I'm still trying to get the hang of the blogging thing. I'm not there yet and I know it. You know how there are 'A-lister' bloggers? I'm about a 'Z-lister' about now. :) That may be all that I ever am and that's ok. I'm still just muddling along to get it where I want it. In both work and personally I'm still learning about all of the new technologies and how they can help companies, in general. I'm the least techie person and, as I said in my blog, I'm going into this kicking and screaming, but I know that I need to learn much, much more. This will be a learning year for me and one filled with trial and much error, I'm sure, where technogy is concerned.
Lee: Speaking of trade shows, are you aware of the podcast by Heidi Miller on tradeshow strategies? Heidi is a professional tradeshow presenter and runs a blog and podcast on the subject, 'The Diary of a Shameless Self Promoter'. If you haven't heard it I recommend you have a listen.
Donna: I haven't seen or heard that yet. Thanks for the tip!
Lee: As a business communicator of some years' experience, what have been the biggest successes you've enjoyed?
Donna: I thought about this question a lot, Lee. The first thing that came to mind each time was something that you might not expect.
For me, the biggest successes have been the times when someone who has worked with me or for me, in the past, has come back and seeked my advice. That, to me, says that I've done something right along the way and helped to give some of the knowledge that I have gathered to someone else.
I've been very, very fortunate to work with some highly intelligent people who have taught me a lot in my professional journey. To be able to help someone else, in a similar way, is very rewarding. That might not be the answer you expected so I'll list some of the 'tangible' successes from the past years....
The first time one of my articles was published and then being asked to write additional pieces.
Five magazine covers in one year, including BusinessWeek, which also had a full page photo of the company's CEO inside.
Having a product placed in a major motion picture where you could read the company name for the first five minutes of the movie because the star was wearing the product.
Managing a high profile event for a client that included working with state and national politicians and the Department of Defense at the Pentagon.
Positioning a client so well in the media that they achieved their goal of being acquired in a shorter time-frame than they anticipated.
That's a good general mix of things, I guess. There have been industry awards, too, but they aren't that important to me, so they don't make the cut!
Lee: Oh, you are too modest! Come on, spill the beans -- what product placement and which movie? Which company was acquired earlier than they expected? What industry awards and for what? Don't forget, the majority of the readers of this interview only know you through the blogosphere, which gives a very filtered, narrow perspective compared to the broader picture of one's life and achievements. Fill us in on your pre-Kryptonite life.
Donna: You are too funny! The product placement was Kryptonite's New York Chain draped across Queen Latifah's chest in the opening scene of the movie Taxi that came out in 2004 and is in DVD release now. The chain has a black nylon covering with the company's name in big white letters - hard to miss! Bike messengers in the movie also use our products. The company that was acquired was a small technology company here in Massachusetts back in the 90s that I'm sure nobody remembers at this point. The awards were Communicator Award of Distinction, Bulldog Reporter's Awards for Excellence in Media Relations and Publicity and a Bell Ringer Award.
Lee: I'm impressed! <smile> If you had your time as a business communicator again, if you could start again, but knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
Donna: That's a tough one because that goes into hypothetical situations, which I, personally, don't like. Besides, if you change one thing, which changes an outcome, all the rest of your life will be changed, you know? I might not even have ended up where I am right now. I'll leave it as I've had some great successes and some not so great accomplishments, too. I think that is just all a part of the up and down of life. Everything I've done has got me to this point, which isn't a bad place to be. :)
Lee: Ha ha! I remember hearing of a sci-fi novel that played with time travel, ending something like a man fathering his own self via his mother but not being aware of it. It's the sort of thing the late great Douglas Adams would no doubt have enjoyed playing with, like Zaphod Beeblebrox and Ford Prefect sharing four of the same mothers. So if you are happy with what has been the outcome so far, what goals and unrealised dreams do you still have?
Donna: Being in Australia you may not get the significance of this, but most people who know me know that if NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. needs a media person, I'd jump at the chance. ;) Since that isn't quite a reality, I'm good where I am now. I'd love to get Kryptonite into another major motion picture again, but I'm already working on that so this is a goal that just might happen this year. I'll keep you posted.
Lee: Fantastic — I look forward to hearing more. Well, thanks, Donna, for sharing some of your views with my readers. I wish you all the best in your plans, both professionally and personally. Many thanks again for agreeing to be interviewed.
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